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By Haseeb -ur-Rahman
Jul 31 - Aug 06, 2000

Something has really gone wrong here. Not that we have been tricked or anything like that, it's just that things are not getting in the perspective that we had imagined them to be. One and a half-year out of business school and I hear a lot of my friend complaining that they were never trained to do the work that they are responsible for. The MBA was a great academic experience I am told but in terms of its functional utility it is just a degree, which was a prerequisite to get the job.

I find this to be pretty tragic. Especially since I have found the MBA to be instrumental in shaping me as a professional and of-course in carving out a lifestyle but I do have empathy with my friends. This is a world driven by marketing of brands something that contemporary marketing books don't really have. This is not a world where the 4P's are a means of operationalising the marketing strategy, but only basic because their utility has changed tremendously. Think about the following variances that have arisen which marketing education needs to address in our country. And I am just talking about the famous 4P's here, which are referred to by many as the pillars of marketing or the foundations of exchange. Do these really assert themselves as important concepts or are they just easy to remember?

Product

So the first thing that a marketer needs to do is have a want driven product? Right? Yes! So what??? How does this in any way make your offering better than your competition? Where is your sustainable advantage if your product does not have a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? Clearly one cannot always come up with a "better" product all the time! So what to do...just lie back and wait for some crazy scientist to invent something which can be called a "superior product"...No way! If you don't have a better product that does in no way mean that you cannot have a better brand. A product is the tangible offering like say a commodity like salt, wheat, jam, automobile, but a brand is something really different. It's the promise that a manufacturer makes to a buyer about quality, service, importance, prestige etc.

These days having a better product is not enough or to be honest not much. Its about how one brands that product in terms of defining its positioning. Is it an upscale brand or one for the masses? Is this brand connoting better performance or faster performance? Do we need brand extension or new brand development? Product are developed based on needs and most of them have already been developed but wants in terms of psychological benefits or functional benefits will always be served not by products but brands.

So will we be correct in saying that a product is only a part of a brand with the brand offering a variety of functional and emotional benefits?

Should it be product or should it be brand? You choose!

Price

Is the marketer responsible for setting the price? But what is price? A sacrifice to get something you want. Right? Then how come people who would not pay a penny for a product agree to pay premium price for a brand? Are soft drinks just a beverage or are they a means through which the consumer can achieve a certain experience? If it's just cola the consumer will only pay a certain price but if its also talking about what it does then perhaps he or she will be willing to pay more.

So as a marketer do I see price of my product or do I see the value that a consumer is placing on my brand? Perhaps my product is just about average but my brand is fantastic. Will I then see price or will I see value? If I see value then I see what is giving my brand that element of being fantastic and build upon it.

Should I price the product or value (evaluate) the brand? You choose!

Place

Now when we talk about place the second word that comes to mind is distribution. So if we have a product and we have priced it then we should distribute it. Right?

Send it everywhere! In the retail store, super markets, kiosks but what is our objective? Is it to distribute our product blindly or is it to make our brand available? If it is to distribute then you will find companies, which have done a fantastic job in channel creation but just do not know why those channels are not performing. However if we are to be customer centered and not distribution centered then the word should be "available".

It is the marketer's job to see if the brand is available where the demand exists.

Should we then place a product once it has been priced or should we make our brand available once it has been valued?

Promotion

Lets come to the last P...namely promotion. What is promotion? Namely publicizing the product making everybody know about it or want it. But promotion is a misnomer. It can mean consumer promotion or trade promotions or advertising or public relations but in analyzing all these varieties of promotion instruments what is forgotten is the objective of that promotion.

If one has taken a certain position then does one promote the positioning or does one communicate the position? Promotion is an activity, which all competitors can do. Communication however is a process whereby marketers have to understand first what they are saying, say it, and then understand if that has been understood by the consumer. Where does this come in if you say promotion?

Promotions are all about getting customer to see us regardless of whether it is need or not. But communication as a process justifies its existence (hence budget) thus leaving a brand more enriched and enhanced. Besides promotion can never be integrated but communication can be. Hence one brand ...one message...one voice...regardless of the plethora of media that are available.

Should we promote the product after pricing and placing it or should we communicate the brand after deciding its value and making it available? You choose!

Ultimately this little piece of wisdom is not to attack the gurus of marketing but to let you people as marketers understand that we tend to look at the marketing mix too much from the perspective of the company where as we should be focusing to see our mix from the eyes of our customers and see what is stopping him or her for choosing our offering.

What may be a product for us is a brand for the customer. What may be price for us is value for the customer. What may be place for us is availability for the customer. And lastly what is promotion for us is communication for the customer. Until our own paradigms are not changed success in the competitive market place in terms of achieving differentiation in the eyes of our consumers not our own selves we are fighting a losing war.

In any case like marketing has taught me it's your choice.... So my friend...You choose!